As the sports landscape continues to gravitate towards developing bigger, faster, and more powerful athletes, occasionally some older ideas get tossed to the side that still play a big role in success.
For athletes who need to throw for accuracy, most notably baseball pitchers, one of those neglected skills is being able to balance on one leg.
The pitching motion, as you can see in this video, puts you in a single leg balance position for most of the movement. An elite pitcher who has great control is the one who can repeat the exact same movements in their delivery just about every single time they throw a pitch.
And what about the pitcher who struggles to balance on one leg? Do you think they will be able to perfectly replicate every detail of their motion consistently?
Even a one inch difference in where they land will cause their pitch to arrive in a different location.
For baseball pitchers who are struggling to throw strikes consistently, I'd recommend coaches take a step back from the science of throwing a ball and first assess their ability to balance with the following sequence:
1. Have your pitchers stand on one leg for 20 seconds per leg. Are they motionless, or does their upper body move around?
2. Repeat the same test with their 'up' leg in a high knee position. This simulates one of the harder points in the pitching motion to stay balanced in, and may bring out more issues than the first test does.
3. Do 8 reps of bodyweight 1 Leg RDL's (shown above) on each leg. This is to simulate the landing position, where even slight upper body movements at the release point can affect the location of the pitch. Do we see unwanted movement here, or does it look smooth and athletic?
An athlete who has no issues with any of these 3 movements is most likely not being held back in their development by poor balance.
But the ones who do struggle are fighting an uphill battle when it comes to commanding their pitches. And from a training/development perspective, the best thing for this athlete to do is to hammer away at improving their single leg balance.
Fortunately for younger athletes, balance is a skill that can greatly improve with practice. It may be getting held back by tightness in certain muscle groups which will necessitate some targeted stretching as well, but the path to greater success on the field is completely within your grasp.
We all want our workouts to make us look jacked up and more powerful, and seeing elite radar gun readings is a huge ego boost too, but every baseball coach will tell you that being able to locate your pitches consistently is the most important element of success on the mound.
Like everything else with training and sports performance, building speed and strength on top of a solid foundation of basic movement skills, like single leg balancing, is what creates truly elite athletes.